Archive for the tag “flood”

The Door No One Can Walk Through

arch-2764_1920If the Lord were not a gracious God, the Bible would have been a mere six chapters long. For in Genesis 6, God stands ready to take the world he had so perfectly created, and which had so imperfectly imploded in sin, and pour it down the drain. “The end of all flesh has come before me,” he said, “for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and look, I am about to destroy humanity with the earth,” (6:13).

Yet Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Because of grace, the Lord made this man the first ship-builder, the first sailor, and a sort of Adam #2 to begin creation anew. Buried in a watery grave was a world of sinners who chose death over life. Down they sank beneath the waves of woe that engulfed the world they had flooded with corruption. And above those same waves floated the ark of salvation that Noah had constructed for him and his family of seven. Nothing stood between them and certain death but the wood of the ark buoyed up by the promise of a good and gracious God.

Noah and his family entered the ark through a door in the side. And in so doing, they gave us a preview of the way in which we enter a greater ark, to be saved in a greater flood. We find grace not only in the eyes, but in the wounds, of the Lord. The portal in our ark of salvation was not made with a saw and hammer but a soldier’s spear. It pierced the side of our Lord as he hung upon the cross. Out flooded blood and water. Through that door in the side of Christ we enter the ark of saving grace.
But we don’t walk through this door.
No one can.
We are carried by waves through this door.
The water and blood that streamed forth from Christ, streams us back into him as we are buoyed up by the waves of baptism, through the wound, and into the body of God incarnate.

“Baptism now saves you,” Peters says (2 Pet 3:21), because baptism is the flood reenacted, but with a wondrous twist. We are sundered from the number of the unbelieving, pass through the pierced-portal in the side of Jesus, and are preserved dry and secure in Christ, the ark of life. “He ferries us across death’s raging flood.” He preserves us dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

As Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we find that same grace in the wounds of our Lord. Of him the water, the blood, and the Spirit cry, “He is our ark; he is our life; he is one who is drowned in our sins that we might float safely to the heavenly harbor of the Father.”

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It quotes from and alludes to the language of Martin Luther’s Baptism Liturgy and the “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” by Stephen Starke (Lutheran Service Book, #597).

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Cross of Grace at the Rainbow’s End

The rainbow is more than a pretty ending to the ugly story of a worldwide flood. In fact, the two ends of the rainbow span the Old and New Testaments to bring them together into a united whole centered on Christ. In this latest episode of The Old Testament Unveiled, I discuss the deep and rich biblical significance of the rainbow. As it turns out, there’s not a fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there is a cross of grace.

If you’d like to read more about the rainbow, here’s an article that provides more of the background:

Bows, Arrows, and Baptismal Fonts

One of the perks of growing up in the Texas Panhandle was that I could see most of the United States from my front porch. It was that flat. Sunsets there transform the whole horizon into a vast canvas of color. And if you’ve ever wanted to actually find the end of a rainbow, then that’s the place to be. You can spot where both ends of the arch kiss the earth.

Speaking of rainbows, they were the stuff of my Sunday School years, along with candy and campfire songs. Noah, the animals two-by-two, and finally the multicolored memento that God wouldn’t liquidate the earth again. The rainbow made for a pretty ending to an ugly story, but, honestly, I’d lost as much sleep fretting about worldwide flooding as I had about being mauled by a Texas polar bear. The rainbow was just one more biblical footnote in that jumbled mess of story after disconnected story in the Old Testament.

Or so I thought it was. Now, when the rain has ceased, and I happen to spy that bright bridge shining in the sky, I see God at work, finger-painting in the heavens a picture of salvation. Here’s why.

The Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, has no word for rainbow. Yes, I realize that in your translation of Genesis, it might read something like, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (NIV, 9:13). But the word often translated as rainbow, keshet, simply means a bow. What we see in the heavens is none other than a weapon of war.

But this weapon of war, two peculiarities set it apart. First, the bow is not drawn back. It’s suspended there, hanging in the heavens. Second, even as it hangs there, it’s pointed upward, not earthward. The bow of the divine warrior, the almighty judge, by which he shot oceans of arrows into the rebellious human race, has been retired. The instrument of execution has been changed into an emblem of peace–a hawk become a dove, a sword hammered into a plowshare. Now every time God sees His bow, He who never forgets will nevertheless remember His oath never to draw it again to punish the earth by a cosmopolitan flood.

But hold on, because the story gets even better. In two prophetic visions, Jesus appears wrapped in the radiance of this beautiful bow of peace. Ezekiel saw Him first, a man-like God, whose radiance was like “the bow in the clouds on a rainy day,” (1:26). John also saw Him, this God-become-man, enveloped by a rainbow that surrounded the throne of God (Revelation 4:2-3). Thus, as the story in Scripture unfolds, not only does the bow remain a token of God’s promise, iconic in the heavens; it also becomes associated with the manifestation of Jesus Christ, enthroned in glory.

And there’s yet one more wrinkle to this story. That ancient flood, which drowned the unbelieving world, but through which Noah and his household were saved, was a foreshadowing of the flood of regeneration and renewal which God works in the font. Peter says that “baptism, which corresponds to this [flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3). The flood, which both killed and kept alive, was a predecessor to baptism, which drowns the old Adam within us and makes us alive by uniting us to Jesus Christ.

Now when we assemble all these parts of the biblical narrative, we see that, unlike I supposed in my Sunday School days, the rainbow is not just one more biblical footnote, disconnected from a seemingly disconnected story. In many ways, the two ends of the rainbow join together the two ends of the Bible, uniting Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. When you are baptized, the Lord drowns you in that flood, but then raises you alive out of those waters to enter a new and better ark, the door of which was hewn open by a Roman spear in the side of Jesus the crucified. A rainbow envelops with its radiance our saving Lord. This colored arc betokens that He is the one who has put an end to the wrath of the Father, made peace between God and man, and ushered you into a new creation.

I’ve never walked into a church in which the baptismal font is adorned with a bow, pointing heavenward, hanging above it. But if I ever do, if you ever do, then we’ll know why.

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Missing Verse in the Creation Account

Sometimes the Scriptures trip us up. We’re walking along the biblical road, as it were, and our foot catches in a pothole. There’s a gap in the narrative. So we pause, we look, we ponder. We note what’s missing and wonder what it might mean. What the Bible does not say becomes just as fascinating as what it does say.

torahscrollThere’s such a gap in the creation account. Six times we read that “there was evening and there was morning, the _______ day.” The first day, the second day, and so forth. Genesis 1 has a predictable pattern; it’s a smooth road to walk. Until we get to the end. There our foot catches in a pothole. We read that God finished all his work on the seventh day, that he rested on this Sabbath day. But never does it say “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” It’s like there’s a missing verse in the creation account. Why? It’s as if this day never ended. It’s waiting for something—or someone—to bring it to a close.

In many ways, the story of Christ is mysteriously hidden in the opening chapters of the Bible. He is the word by whom the heavens and earth were made; the light of the world; the true image of the invisible God; and so forth. He is also the one who finally can say, “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” Jesus brings this first Sabbath to a close when he rests within the tomb on the Sabbath day. He has done the work of recreation, the work of saving us. Having worked himself to death, he rests from his labors on the Sabbath. When Jesus rises again, that old seventh day is over. Indeed, the old creation has come to an end. When the Creator emerges from the tomb after his Sabbath rest, he ushers in the eighth day. It is the first day of the new creation in Christ. And it is a day with no evening, for this day shall never end. The sun never sets on the new creation in Christ, for there is no darkness, only light in the Lord. In his Genesis Lectures, Luther remarks on this,

“In an allegorical sense the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the sepulcher on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day without the alternations of night. (AE 3:141)

The Old Testament had already foreshadowed this eighth day salvation we have in Christ. On the ark, there were only eight people. After the flood, these eight disembark into a kind of new creation. God had rewound the world, as it were, to Genesis 1 again, where waters covered the surface of the earth. When the earth is dry again, Noah and seven others step into this purged creation as the human nucleus of a new world. St. Peter tells us that the flood was an image of baptism (1 Peter 3:20), whereby we are saved. In baptism we enter the ark of Christ’s body through the door in his side, hollowed out by a Roman spear. In Christ, we become part of the group of eight on the ark. The eight does not increase to nine or ten but swells to contain us all. God recreates us in this saving flood of baptism. We enter the new creation in Christ.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, infant boys were circumcised on the eighth day of the lives. This was a preview of the true and full circumcision that was to come in Christ. In Jesus, all of us are “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Col 2:11-12). We were circumcised with Christ in baptism. Not just a tiny bit of flesh—the foreskin—was cut away, but the entire person has been circumcised away by those cutting waters. In baptism we are buried and resurrected with Christ. We rest with him on the seventh day. And we rise with him on the eighth day as new creatures who enter an eternal day. Yes, we await the resurrection of our bodies, but by baptismal participation in the resurrected body of Jesus, we already have the down payment of our own resurrection. And, as Luther says, on the day our bodies are raised, we shall be “perfectly circumcised, in order that we may be free of every sin of the world,” (AE 3:141).

On Easter, Jesus finally finished writing Genesis 1-2. He stepped out of the tomb, took pen in hand, and wrote on the Torah scroll, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” He began the eighth day, after which there is no other. It is the everlasting day of an everlasting kingdom which we enter on the ark of baptism, circumcised into Jesus, made new and whole in him who accomplished a re-genesis of the world for us.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Will There Be Animals in Heaven?

animalsheavenGo as far back into history as you can, and you’ll find that there’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation.

It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen 2:19). Indeed, this served a dual purpose: not only did Adam name them, but he also searched for a possible mate. Scripture says that, of all these animals, “there was not found a suitable helper for him,” (2:20). Thus, Eve was subsequently crafted from Adam’s own body as that suitable helper. In the beginning, therefore, human life and animal life were intertwined.

Go forward a few generations and this bond is underscored once more. When the flood destroys all but eight people in the world, Noah and his family are kept safe in a boat that looks like a floating zoo. When they emerge from the ark, people and animals set foot within a kind of “new creation.” God saw fit not only to preserve humanity for this fresh start, but also the animals.

And one more story. When God threatened to demolish Nineveh unless they turned from their wicked ways, the citizens were so zealous in repentance that the king commanded a citywide fast in which neither “man, beast, herd, or flock” should eat or drink. Indeed, he went on, “both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth,” (3:7-8). When Jonah pouts because things didn’t go his way, God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are not more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:11). That last phrase—“as well as many animals”—highlights that God was not merely compassionate toward the people of Nineveh. Those fasting, sackcloth-clad animals were in need of mercy as well.

But how far does this mercy extend? To the limits of this life or beyond? Will there be dogs and horses and birds in heaven? Or are these animals only part of the gifts of this world?

There’s a twofold answer to that question. First, no, there is no promise that there will be animals in heaven. But heaven is not the ultimate goal of humanity. When believers die, they go to paradise, in the presence of Christ, but there they anticipate the climactic gift of God: the resurrection of the body. From now until the return of Jesus on the last day, believers are waiting for God to raise and glorify their bodies. When that happens, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heart, and the earth and its works will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3:10). Then, according to his promise, God will give us “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” (3:13).

What will this new heavens and new earth be like? Isaiah describes it as a place where there is no more weeping and crying, but rather rejoicing (65:17-19). People shall build houses and live in them, plants vineyards and enjoy their fruit. All will be well again, better than Eden. Indeed, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” (65:25). Elsewhere, when the prophet describes the blessings of the new creation in Christ, he says, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them,” (11:6).

So, will there be animals in heaven? No, we are not given that promise. But will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth, where we will reside in resurrected, glorified bodies? Yes, that is the way our Father has described the new creation which we await.

Our final resting place is indeed a physical, created place. We will not strum harps as we recline on fluffy clouds in a spirit-like existence. Rather, we will have bodies. We will eat and drink. We will enjoy a creation even better than what Adam and Eve enjoyed. As our first parents had a bond with the animals, as Noah had animals with him in the reboot of creation after the flood, so after the fire-flood that brings the old creation to an end, we will enjoy a new creation that includes animals.

All of this will be because in Christ, God our Father is making all things new (Rev 21:5). His resurrection is the source of life in the new creation. In him and because of him, our Father is well-pleased with us. And he is pleased to give us a place where we might dwell with him, in harmony with creation. There we, the children of Adam, will once more enjoy the companionship of the animals our first father named so long ago.

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christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Where’s Drunk, Naked Noah on the Sunday School Felt Board?

noahfeltboardPerhaps you can help me. I’ve visited every church website I can think of in search of a felt board for Sunday School that includes the story of Noah from start to finish. There’s plenty of them, but they all are missing a piece of the story. They have the little figures of Noah and his sons; cows and camels and goats and other animals; the water and the ark and, of course, the rainbow. And they’re all very cute. Children can reenact the story by putting the figures on the felt board.

What I’m missing, however, are the pieces from the last part of the Flood account. All I need to complete the story is the little felt tent, and the little felt figure of a drunk, naked Noah that the kids can place inside the tent.

Where is the drunk, naked Noah for the Sunday School felt board? He’s probably in the same place as the little felt figures of Lot’s two daughters getting their dad drunk and having sex with him while they were hiding out in the mountains after Sodom was destroyed (Gen 19:30-38). Or maybe it’s in the same place as the felt figure of the Levite who chopped his dead concubine into a dozen pieces after the men of the city had gang-raped her all night (Judges 19). Or it could be where the felt figure of Elisha is when he sicced the two momma bears on the forty two boys who mocked him as a baldhead (2 Kings 2:23-25). Come to think of it, there are lots of missing felt figures. Where could they be?

They are all in the same place: they are boxed away in a secret place lest children, and adults, get the impression that the Good Book is stuffed with stories of bad people doing bad things. And this is truly a shame. For the less we tell these stories of sin, the more it seems we are ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of bad people.

Yes, Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; he walked with God (Gen 6:9). And through God, Noah did some great, holy things. Most notably, he was a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and “by faith…he constructed an ark for the salvation of his household,” (Heb 11:7). But after the waters of the flood had dried up, Noah planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, became drunk, and lay naked in his tent (Gen 9:20-21). So was Noah an ark-builder or a wine-bibber? Was he a righteous man or a drunk man? Was he a saint or a sinner?

Yes, he was. He was all of the above. And so is every believer.

But you wouldn’t know that from Sunday School felt boards. Nor from the sections of Scripture that many churches choose to read during worship. Nor from the content of many adult Bible studies. And you certainly wouldn’t know it from listening to the majority of songs and hymns based on biblical stories.

And in so far as that is true, we have deprived the children of God of much comfort. The comfort is not in knowing that bad people do bad things, but that our Father is not a deity that trashes people when they do. Rather, he is patient with them, seeks them out, calls them to repentance, and embraces them with his forgiving love in Jesus.

Speaking of Noah’s drunkenness, Martin Luther notes this story is recorded because God wanted those who “know their weakness and for this reason are disheartened, to take comfort in the offense that comes from the account of the lapses among the holiest and more perfect patriarchs.” In the stories of men like drunk Noah we “find sure proof of our own weakness and therefore bow down in humble confession, not only to ask for forgiveness but also to hope for it.” To hope for forgiveness, and to be certain that in Christ all is forgiven, all is well.

If we’re going to focus on any stories in the Scriptures, let us highlight those in which the weakness of people and the forgiveness of God in Christ are made manifest. Given the choice, I’d rather my children learn in Sunday School that drunk, naked Noah was forgiven than that the animals came into the ark two by two. I’d rather them, from the earliest age, learn that the Scriptures are not a long story of good people doing good things for a good God, but that the Scriptures are the story of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.

If we are not ashamed of the Gospel, then let us not be ashamed of teaching that God forgives the shameful acts of all those who are in Christ, including me and you and our friend—drunk, naked Noah.

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christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Gospel According to Noah

This reflection was published yesterday on the website Christ Hold Fast

When Lamech named his newborn son Noah—which means “rest”—he said, “This one shall give us comfort from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Genesis 5:29). Making what Luther calls a “pious mistake,” Lamech thinks his wife is nursing the promised seed, the new Adam who will undo the doing of Adam #1. Although Lamech missed the messianic bulls-eye, he was certainly on target in another way, for his son would indeed point forward to the life and ministry of the Christ.

Noah grew up in a world “corrupt in the sight of God” and “filled with violence” (6:11). He, however, “found grace in the eyes of the LORD . . . was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (6:8-9). Many children’s Bible Story books put it this way: “People everywhere were bad, but Noah was good.” But Noah was “good” not because he wasn’t “bad,” but because he believed in the good One whom his father had mistaken him for—the promised seed. Noah “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” because faith planted him in the apple of the LORD’s eye, the Son of the Father.

Noah was six hundred years old when he, his wife, his three sons and their wives—eight people in all—entered the ark. No doubt the neighbors thought Noah, along with his family, had lost their grip on sanity. But it would soon be those neighbors who were clinging like barnacles to the outside of the ark.

The outside of the ark. There the world was transformed into a cosmopolitan font. There the waters drowned a world of old Adams and old Eves who had not found grace in the eyes of the LORD for they feasted their eyes on nothing but the stuff of earthly life. Outside the ark, creation shifted into reverse as man and beast drowned; sun, moon, and stars became invisible; trees and dry land vanished. Back, back to Genesis 1:8 and day two of creation, when the waters above were separated from the waters below, but water, water everywhere, was all there was to see.

But, of course, that wasn’t all there was to see in Genesis 7. There was the ark. There were eight people. There were the animals. And finally, after about a year, there was a freshly picked olive leaf in the beak of Noah’s dove. Though Noah was not the new Adam, there was more than a faint echo of God’s words to our first parents when He told Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:2). Noah may not have lived up to his father’s expectations, but this man of rest, who built an ark for the salvation of his household (Hebrews 11:7), certainly foreshadowed a Son who would live up to His Father’s expectations, the true man of rest, the new and better Noah, who built an ark for the salvation of His household, a household of which you are a member.

It was the new and better Noah, wet with Jordan’s water, upon whom the Spirit’s dove landed, marking Him the true man of rest. He is the one who finally fulfills Lamech’s messianic hopes, for He comes to fulfill all righteousness for Lamech, for Noah, for you. But His way is not a mere re-run of the old, for if Noah condemned the world (Hebrews 11:7), then Christ was condemned for the world. In the Jordan, Christ stepped into the place of—what children’s books call—“bad” people, people like us. The water that trickled off His back in the Jordan foreshadowed a greater baptism with which He was to be baptized, the baptism in which the world’s sins were poured out upon Him, in which He was flooded with divine wrath. The bad person you are, Christ became. Your pettiness, your selfishness, your the-world-be-damned-as-long-as-I’m-okay attitude—all your badness engulfed the good Son of God. The apple of the Father’s eye was so filled with your rottenness that the Father turned away from Him as if it were you.

And so it was that the new and better Noah became, on the cross, the old and unbelieving world, precisely in order that you might be pulled from the waters of death and planted within the ark of His resurrected body. For as the one just man, Noah, exited the ark after the flood, so the one just man, Christ, exited the ark of His tomb after the baptismal flood of crucifixion. And just as eight people lived through the ancient flood, so on the eighth day, Christ lived again, the new Adam who had come to undo the doing of the old Adam, and to re-genesis the world in the new creation of His Church.

The body of this new Adam is now the ark of the Church. He is the ship of salvation whose door, pried open by a soldier’s spear, still stands open. His side is open so that you can enter therein and find life. You are baptized into the ark of Christ no better than a beast; but whereas the beasts that entered Noah’s ark remained beasts, you are made a son of God upon entrance. No longer an unclean beast, you are a clean, holy, forgiven child of your heavenly Father, safe and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, the body of the new and better Noah.

Outside the ark there is only death, but within the ark of Christ’s body the Church, there is life, salvation, and hope for you. Like Noah, you have found grace in the eyes of the LORD for you have been found within that One who gives you true rest.

A version of this reflection is included in Chad’s book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, available from Amazon.

Bows, Arrows, and Baptismal Fonts: The Significance of the Rainbow in the Bible

Bow and ArrowsOne of the perks of growing up in the Texas Panhandle was that I could see most of the United States from my front porch. It was that flat. Sunsets there transform the whole horizon into a vast canvas of color. And if you’ve ever wanted to actually find the end of a rainbow, then that’s the place to be. You can spot where both ends of the arch kiss the earth.

Speaking of rainbows, they were the stuff of my Sunday School years, along with candy and campfire songs. Noah, the animals two-by-two, and finally the multicolored memento that God wouldn’t liquidate the earth again. The rainbow made for a pretty ending to an ugly story, but, honestly, I’d lost as much sleep fretting about worldwide flooding as I had about being mauled by a Texas polar bear. The rainbow was just one more biblical footnote in that jumbled mess of story after disconnected story in the Old Testament.

Or so I thought it was. Now, when the rain has ceased, and I happen to spy that bright bridge shining in the sky, I see God at work, finger-painting in the heavens a picture of salvation. Here’s why.

The Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, has no word for rainbow. Yes, I realize that in your translation of Genesis, it might read something like, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (NIV, 9:13). But the word often translated as rainbow, keshet, simply means a bow. What we see in the heavens is none other than a weapon of war.

But this weapon of war, two peculiarities set it apart. First, the bow is not drawn back. It’s suspended there, hanging in the heavens. Second, even as it hangs there, it’s pointed upward, not earthward. The bow of the divine warrior, the almighty judge, by which he shot oceans of arrows into the rebellious human race, has been retired. The instrument of execution has been changed into an emblem of peace–a hawk become a dove, a sword hammered into a plowshare. Now every time God sees His bow, He who never forgets will nevertheless remember His oath never to draw it again to punish the earth by a cosmopolitan flood.

But hold on, because the story gets even better. In two prophetic visions, Jesus appears wrapped in the radiance of this beautiful bow of peace. Ezekiel saw Him first, a man-like God, whose radiance was like “the bow in the clouds on a rainy day,” (1:26). John also saw Him, this God-become-man, enveloped by a rainbow that surrounded the throne of God (Revelation 4:2-3). Thus, as the story in Scripture unfolds, not only does the bow remain a token of God’s promise, iconic in the heavens; it also becomes associated with the manifestation of Jesus Christ, enthroned in glory.

And there’s yet one more wrinkle to this story. That ancient flood, which drowned the unbelieving world, but through which Noah and his household were saved, was a foreshadowing of the flood of regeneration and renewal which God works in the font. Peter says that “baptism, which corresponds to this [flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3). The flood, which both killed and kept alive, was a predecessor to baptism, which drowns the old Adam within us and makes us alive by uniting us to Jesus Christ.

Now when we assemble all these parts of the biblical narrative, we see that, unlike I supposed in my Sunday School days, the rainbow is not just one more biblical footnote, disconnected from a seemingly disconnected story. In many ways, the two ends of the rainbow join together the two ends of the Bible, uniting Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. When you are baptized, the Lord drowns you in that flood, but then raises you alive out of those waters to enter a new and better ark, the door of which was hewn open by a Roman spear in the side of Jesus the crucified. A rainbow envelops with its radiance our saving Lord. This colored arc betokens that He is the one who has put an end to the wrath of the Father, made peace between God and man, and ushered you into a new creation.

I’ve never walked into a church in which the baptismal font is adorned with a bow, pointing heavenward, hanging above it. But if I ever do, if you ever do, then we’ll know why.

++If you enjoy my writings, and would like to read more of them, check out my two recently published books, one of hymns and poetry, and one of meditations and sermons. The Infant Priest is a collection of about 20 hymns and 90 poems. Christ Alone contains brief meditations and sermons that are steeped in the language of creation, the Passover, the worship life of Israel, and the Gospels. Click on either of the titles, or visit Amazon.com, to read more and find out how you can purchase a copy. Thank you for your interest!

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